Thursday, September 18, 2014

Softbank iPhone 6 America Unlimited plan to provide inexpensive roaming

Updated with a correction on application requirements and some images.
Free calls to both Japan and the United States using Sprint's network.

No service application or service fee for plans over 5 GB.

I was planning on writing up a post comparing each of the Japanese carrier's iPhone 6 plans but that really gets tiring. They are all basically the same. As soon as one carrier outdoes the rest with some promotion, campaign, discount, offer, or other gimmick, the others quickly devising a similar scheme.

Thus, the answer to the question of which carrier is best for you shiny new iPhone is always the same: not you current carrier because
  1. The discounts and cash back offered to people who port their number to a new carrier offset the early termination fee for leaving.
  2. The new plans allow unlimited calling to all mobiles/land lines, so it no longer matters which carrier your friends and family use.
  3. All carriers now have similar coverage across multiple high and low frequency bands.
  4. All carriers now have similar issues with congestions and network slow downs.
However, this year is different. For American expats or people who frequently travel to the United States, SoftBank appears to be the clear winner in the iPhone 6 competition. After purchasing a majority stake in US carrier Sprint, SoftBank is now able to offer deals that Docomo and KDDI simply cannot match.

SoftBank "All You Can America" Plan

The full details are still scarce, but unless there is something profound that is being held back, the new US roaming plan from Softbank looks pretty nice.
  • Roaming on Sprint's CDMA-2000 (3G) and TD-LTE ("4G") network (the latter will come sometime this (fiscal?) year)
  • ¥980 per month only during months the service is used (free during the initial promotion period and).
  • While in the US, voice, SMS, and data are available just as if you were in Japan
  • Apparently unlimited calling in the US (according to tech blogs but there in no mention on SoftBank's press release)
  • No need to apply for the service and no fee for people with data plans over 5 GB 

iPhone A1586 (iPhone 6) and A1524 (iPhone 6 Plus) frequency bands (SoftBank and Sprint bands)
CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
TD-SCDMA 1900 (F), 2000 (A)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29)
TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40, 41)

Only for the iPhone 6, for now

To do this requires the usage four separate technologies across multiple spectrum bands. SoftBank is a WCDMA carrier, but Sprint (like KDDI) is a CDMA-2000 carrier. While in Japan, the iPhone 6 would use SoftBank's WCDMA (1), FDD-LTE (2), and TD-LTE (3) networks. While in the US, it will use Sprint's CDMA-2000 (4) network, and (eventually), also their TD-LTE network. While some earlier iPhone models are technically compatible with Sprint, these will be excluded (presumably) because they are locked to the technology of the activation carrier. That is, an iPhone 5 activated on a WCDMA carrier can only ever be used with other WCDMA carriers. I guess that could be patched, but then that would remove the inducement to buy a new phone.

There are currently no other phones except for the iPhone 6 that support this combination of bands and technologies. SoftBank is considering releasing an Android phone that would also be compatible. An unlocked iPhone 6 will be ineligible for the all-you-can-america plan. It is also possible to expand usage to FDD-LTE bands 25 and 26 that Sprint is building out.

Coincidence or Planning?

The TD-LTE network that will provide the 4G data connection in the US was originally built out by Clearwire. Sprint at one point owned just over a 50% stake in Clearwire before scaling back to just under 50% in around 2011. Then after SoftBank CEO Son took control of Sprint and injected lots of cash, Sprint bought all the remaining Clearwire shares, obtaining a lot of spectrum and, by chance, a TD-LTE network, using the exact same frequency band (TD-LTE band 41, 2500 MHz) as SoftBank.

Makes me wonder how much that network figured into the decision.


  1. "An unlocked iPhone 6 will be ineligible for the all-you-can-america plan."

    So they can continue to ream customers who travel to Asia, Europe, and elsewhere for absolutely no technological reason whatsoever. No thanks -- that's the primary reason I left $oftBank.

  2. "An unlocked iPhone 6 will be ineligible for the all-you-can-america plan."

    I looked at the press release link you posted, and the detailed page that came along with it but I did not see the part that states the above. I must have missed it somehow.

    > ・No need to apply for the service for people with data plans 5 GB and under
    Is incorrect.

    It should be "No need to apply for the service for people with data plans 5GB and up, and will remain free even after the campaign has ended."

  3. ah thanks. The part about unlocked phones comes from the tech bloggers (forget which one exactly) that were at the press conference.

  4. I've gone ahead and done the spreadsheets for estimated costs for staying with AU or switching to Softbank or Docomo. And I'm not so sure about: "Thus, the answer to the question of which carrier is best for you shiny new iPhone is always the same: not you current carrier..." From what I understand, a switch to either of these carriers requires you to use the かけ放題 plan - monthly at ¥2700 for basic plan costs - if you want to reap the benefits of other monthly "support" discounts against the price of the phone. At least this is what the guy at softbank told me when I asked if it would be possible to go with the WhitePlan when getting an iPhone 6 via MNP. Anyone know if this is actually the case?

  5. They've always done this. I have an unlocked 5S and they wouldn't let me upgrade my service to LTE (Which works as I've used my wife's sim). I was told no phones that are from other carriers are allowed on the Softbank network. So, I had to install a profile to use the old iPhone 4 settjngs for 3g.

  6. They are right. Softbank doesn't allow phones that aren't softbank phones. I have gone to several shops to try and get LTE service on my unlocked 5S (old phone was a Softbank 4S). All of them told me I couldn't use a phone that wasn't from Softbank.